Children happy to play with toys...
Many people and organizations are working in the education sector and bringing about some amazing impact, yet some gaps remain…This story is about one such gap and our experiments with material around this challenge.
Playing with paper boats in water puddles is a favorite sport of children.. but when the same water engulfs the homes and lives which provide them a familiar comfort, does their precious innocence get lost somehow in all the disaster relief work? This story is about how material added a soothing touch to children traumatized by a devastating disaster.
The Bihar floods way back in 2008 weren’t floods actually.. Flooding means the river water overflows into the land areas and then recedes after some time.. In Bihar the Kosi river actually changed its course and started flowing on a different path, drowning many areas which had never seen a flood before. The water in Supaul, Araria, Saharsa, Madhepura, Khagaria, Bhagalpur and Purnea districts did not retreat for months resulting in widespread hunger and disease. The worst affected were children, who usually go silent at such times, unable to express their trauma. For them the relief needs to go beyond just food and shelter, it needs to connect them back to their childhood innocence. After extensive relief work we couldn’t help noticing the blank eyes and expressions of children in many villages we visited. This became the genesis of Chehak Centers, started solely to nurture the innocence of children in tough times.
‘Chehak’ in Hindi means the chirping of the young ones. The first Goonj Chehak centre started near a railway line where some kids gathered. We wanted to create a stress and trauma free space for the flood hit children and to introduce learning and basic behavioral aspects to children who had never been to a school before. It was also timely for the parents who were busy rebuilding their lives and homes.
We opened 16 Chehak centers across Bihar. We first planned to run these centers for 2 months, until the water receded but instead ran them for more than 2 years. The centres were filled with toys and other recreational material while in the initial months we hired and paid for local teachers and provided all the material for the children.
This story though is not about the brick and mortar centers that we created, it is about the lives of the children who came there and the people who made it happen…
14 years old Kiran from Badhgaon, Saharsa (Bihar) would probably be tagged as a problem child in a city school.. She was frequently found in everyday fights, using foul language.. generally a terror and a headache for her parents, neighbors and peers. When the GOONJ team motivated Kiran to join a Chehak centre, initially everyone at the center had problems with her behavior. Over the course of time we noticed a marked improvement and changes in her behavior. Kiran eventually turned out to be one of the most sincere and bright students at the center; well behaved, disciplined and a role model to many. With pride her mother would share about the changes in Kiran’s personality and her focus on studies. From a nuisance to a role model Kiran’s journey has been an inspiration and learning for all of us.
Like most things we do, the Chehak Centers also emerged as a result of active participation and ownership of the local communities. Not only did people pro actively work for making these centres, they also contributed by giving land, soil, bamboo to doing shramdaan (voluntary labor). Many abandoned structures were turned into Chehak centres under Goonj’s Cloth for Work (CFW) initiative. After heavy rains, people came forward to repair the Chehak centres even before repairing or rebuilding their own homes. The people of Govindpur Goriyari village especially made a bamboo bridge under CFW to make a Chehak centre accessible to children on the other side of the river.
There are two Chehak Centres (Saharsa district) currently operational with over 200 children. Now the parents give Rs. 30-40 monthly, taking the complete ownership of the center. The centers now act as informal tuition centers, complementing the formal government school education for these children. Goonj continues to support them in terms of material.
Chehak centers were started with a specific gap in mind and we used material as a tool to address that gap. Started as an experiment in the Bihar floods, the concept is evolving as we recently organized free coaching centres for the flood affected children in Srinagar, (J&K). The needs and modalities are different but the goal is the same. More about that in another story...
Children learning to write..
Children involved in an activity..
Children in an activity..
Engaging in activities..